Archive for the ‘Save Your Money’ Category

Dear Danielle: Will Certification Make Me Look More Professional?

This question comes up frequently. And I often see  newcomers to the industry being preyed upon due to their mistaken belief that “certification will make me look more professional.”

The fact is, no one’s little piece of paper is going to make you look more professional.

The only thing that will make you look more professional is by DEMONSTRATING your expertise and competence and skills in everything you do.

That includes how your website looks, how you speak, your message, your business operations and processes… These are the things that make you look more professional.

In over 14 years of business, I have never once been asked by a client if I am certified. They simply do not care.

And it’s not something that ever occurs to them to ask when every other demonstration to them indicates that you are professional, credible, trustworthy and competent.

Sadly, many people will waste their precious time and money on certifications that will have absolutely nothing to do with getting clients and whether they succeed or fail.

I’ve written about this topic extensively on my old blog and have just moved all these posts over to the new blog here under their own category called “Certification Is a Joke.”

If you are thinking about paying for certification in our industry, read the posts I’ve written on this subject first.

Thoughts About Promotional Items

When it comes to promotional items, put some thought into what the client might like, value and appreciate.

I recently saw a comment where the person mentioned that they didn’t want to miss out on any opportunity to give clients “something with my name on it.”

Sweeties, clients could care less about items with your name on it. Do you know how much of that crap get tossed in the “round file” as soon as it’s received? No one wants or needs yet another boring pen or letter opener with your name on it.

You’re going to waste a lot of money on stuff that no one but you cares about and isn’t going to make you memorable anyway (which is why people do these promo items in the first place).

Put some more thought into things, more originality. Think about it from the client’s perspective. And if you don’t know what they would like, value, appreciate or find interesting or helpful, then get out there and start talking to them now.

Demonstrating exceptional service is more memorable than any promo item. No one is going to become a raving fan shouting about you to others every chance they get because they got a pen with your name on it.

Giving something extra is more memorable. Go above and beyond once in awhile as a gesture of good will and just because you know it will help.

Creating some free info products (which can and should have your name and branding on it) is more useful to clients and they are more likely to pass those kinds of things on (which helps you get your name out there… exactly what you intended the ineffective promo items to do).

If you’re going to give a gift to a new client, make it a real gift, not some self-serving promotional item.

And when it comes to gifts, consider giving something they can experience rather than something that might only sit on a shelf or go in a drawer (or worse, the wastebasket). Maybe that’s zoo tickets. Maybe it’s a certificate for dinner for two. Maybe you send them over something unconventional and unexpected. Those are the things that are memorable to people. You’ll be forever associated with those good memories and feelings and they for sure will be telling others about the uniqueness of your approach.

No one raves to others about some humdrum pen or letter opener with your name on it. And when they don’t care about the item (and it gets buried or thrown away), you’ve just wasted money and effort imprinting them with your details.

If you’re looking for ideas for your new client welcome kits, I’ve got a New Client Welcome Kit Guide that covers all this stuff and comes free with the admin support biz sets I offer in our Success Store.

Dear Danielle: Is Virtual Assistant Certification Necessary?

Dear Danielle:

I have wanted to start my own Virtual Assistant business for a while now. I’ve been with the same large corporation for 12 years, some of that time spent in the Medical Law department, as a human resources assistant and about six years as an executive assistant juggling multiple managers. Prior to that, I worked from a woman’s home as her assistant as she ran her own company bringing in over $400,000 gross per year. I have the experience, I have the drive and motivation; I learn quickly; I’m resourceful; I am able to work independently and have a record of excellent customer service and problem solving skills. I am concerned that not having a Virtual Assistant certificate from a college may hinder client selection. From your experience, are degree-less Virtual Assistants making a living out there? Do you know of a legitimate online Virtual Assistant certification?

Fabulous! You have listed just about everything you need to start an administrative support business:  experience, drive, resourcefulness, ability to learn quickly and excellent customer service and problem-solving skills. The only other requirement is going to be excellent business sense. Because running a business and doing the work and taking care of clients are two completely different things.

I’ve written extensively on the subject of certification. You do not need anyone’s piece of paper to “certify” that you have the administrative expertise to offer your services. I say this as someone who has been in this business for over 14 years and never once been asked by a single client–ever–whether I was “certified” or not.

Most of the certification programs in our industry are a joke. I’ve even had colleagues go through some of these programs where the administrators themselves can’t spell, litter their correspondence with typos, and get their own exams wrong. There’s a proliferation of opportunists and exploiters out there who are just using these programs as personal sales vehicles and will certify anyone willing to pay. These “certifications” will have absolutely no influence or affect on your success or client attraction whatsoever.

Pay for skills training. Pay for business knowledge and education. Pay for products and services that have actual, practical value and use in your business. But when it comes to “certification,” save your money.

There is only one thing you need to prove to clients and that is done by simply demonstrating your qualifications, competence and service in all that you do. Your site, your messages, your writing and articles, your networking and interactions… every bit of it is an example and sampling for clients of your skills, expertise and professionalism.

When you demonstrate a professional level of expertise and competence, no one is going to ask you about certification. Those questions only come when prospective clients don’t see those things exampled on your website, your business image, your content and your communications. But when you do demonstrate those things in all those places, you instill credibility. You instill trust. They don’t need to ask because they already get that sense of your competence through all your displays of marketing, presentation and interaction.

No piece of paper will prove those things. And any certification you get becomes meaningless if you can’t demonstrate on a daily basis, in everything you do, the qualities that the certification is supposed to “prove.”

Here are some other posts I’ve written on the topic of certification that may be of interest to you:

http://www.administrativeconsultantsassoc.com/blog/2008/05/11/are-you-trying-too-hard/

http://www.administrativeconsultantsassoc.com/blog/2008/01/08/demonstrate-your-competence/

http://www.administrativeconsultantsassoc.com/blog/2007/10/10/dear-danielle-what-can-you-tell-me-about-credentialing/

It sounds like you’ve got all the qualifications and experience you need to open a business as an Administrative Consultant and offer professional level administrative support and expertise. Learning to be a good businessperson may take some additional skills and education, if you don’t have those already.

Don’t bother with certification, though. Just become a good student of business. Read business books. Find business mentors (formal or informal). Ask lots of questions. If you do take some kind of course, I highly recommend training and guides related to business management and marketing, not a certification course.

And don’t confuse skills training with certification. They are not the same thing.

Good luck to you and thanks for the great question! We need more highly skilled and competent people like you in our field!

Demonstrate Your Competence

Actions speak louder than words.

You can say you are the smartest, most competent, most wonderful administrative expert in the world, but if those statements aren’t backed up–evidenced–in all that you do in the most visible, tangible ways, your message will fall on deaf ears.

Everything you do is a demonstration of your professional competence. Every action, communication, effort and follow-up is an example of the level of skill, awareness, intelligence, professionalism and critical thinking ability you possess.

Even the visual presentation you provide, be it in your personal appearance or the design of your website, is communicating certain messages, either positive or negative, about you as a professional.

When someone doesn’t know a thing about you, they are unconsciously looking at any and all evidence of what you’re about. And they make assessments (yup, you can call ‘em judgments) about you instantly, without even thinking, based on what you show them.

Think about it.

A prospective client doesn’t know anything about you, even less if they aren’t coming to you on referral. If your website is sloppy, they will assume your work is sloppy, too.

If there are misspellings, punctuation errors and poor grammar used, they are going to wonder whether you have the most basic of skills to provide professional services to them.

If you don’t take care in the messages you write or can’t seem to follow the simplest of directions, they are immediately going to correlate that with what it will be like to work with you–and probably pass.

Understand the dynamics involved in the prospect-provider relationship. It’s not the prospective client’s job to waste their time (and they won’t) trying to figure out if someone really is competent if all other indications tell them that’s not the case. Nor will they second-guess the poor image or example you present. Trust me, they are going to take you at face value and assume that your services are amateur, sub-par and not at a professional level.

That’s why it’s really important to pay attention to the details. You have to show up, in everything you do, in a way that clearly demonstrates your professional competence and the kind of experience they will have if they choose to work with you.

Dear Danielle: What Can You Tell Me About Credentialing?

Dear Danielle:

What can you tell me about getting credentialed? I have worked as an administrative assistant for over eight years, so I feel I am qualified to start my own business. How important is it? And where is a reputable organization to obtain training, if needed? —FA

I personally don’t think you need to get credentialed.

Virtual Assistant industry designations have no meaning to clients; they don’t know CVA from MVPA to QBCPAMVAP. And these days, questionable organizations are springing up left and right in our industry who will sell “credentials” to anyone willing to pay.

(Here’s a tip: If the business–and make no mistake, it’s a business to them–trying to sell you “credentials” can’t themselves spell or articulate like a grown-up professional organization, that’s a good clue that they don’t have any business credentialing anyone, much less taking your hard-earned money.)

My advice, save your money.

The most important credential and qualification you need to be offering professional level services is your administrative experience and masterful skills. When folks ask about getting credentials, what they’re really asking is “How can I prove to clients that I am skilled?”

Well, first you have to take the word “prove” out of the equasion. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone, especially if you know darn good and well what you are capable of. But what you do need to do for clients and prospects is instill and nurture trust, credibility and rapport.

You do that by demonstrating your skills, competence, intelligence and capability in everything you do… How your website looks, how you speak and write, how you craft your marketing message and materials, how you interact with prospects, how you follow-through with what you say you will do… these are the ways you “prove” to clients that you are what you say you are and that you can do what you say you can. Any “credential” you might plop on your site means absolutely nothing if you can’t back it up with these demonstrations.

So, forget “credentials.” If you’re intent on buying pieces of paper and wasting money, become a member of the Better Business Bureau instead (although I would still tell you to save your money). At least the BBB is a well-known organization that is widely recognized and established.

What would be a far more useful investment of your money is investing in business training. Because being highly skilled and knowing how to do the work is far different from knowing how to run a business. That’s where the learning curve is for most new administrative support business owners—learning how to run a smart, profitable, self-sustaining business.